BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
No. 3 and undefeated LSU extended it’s school-record winning streak to 19 on Thursday night, but Arkansas didn’t make it easy.
Angel Reese had 30 points and 19 rebounds as the Bayou Bengals (19-0, 7-0) fought off the Razorbacks 79-76 before a crowd of 7,278 fans at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.
It was a far different game than the 69-45 drubbing LSU put on Arkansas (17-4, 4-2) in Fayetteville on Dec. 29.
“I think there are moral victories,” Razorback head coach Mike Neighbors said. “I think a lot of people say that (there aren’t), but if you are in that locker room every day, there are such things as those. There is not a thing like it leading to the win column, but our kids have got to feel good about the improvement we made it 21 days.
“And we talked about that because it was a butt-whipping up there. It wasn’t close. So our improvement can be celebrated and it can lead to good morale.
“It is not going to lead to a victory, but I think if I missed the opportunity to celebrate that with them, I think we are missing out on a chance to learn as a team.”
After two big-time 3-pointers by Arkansas’ Makayla Daniels, Samara Spencer’s lay up gave the Razorbacks a 74-71 with 3:21 left.
LSU scored the next six points and Arkansas did not make another field goal.
“I think if you asked people around the country, they would look around and say that is a good effort by Arkansas,” Neighbors said.
Neighbors has stressed to his team after the earlier loss to LSU that it should concentrated on improving in he four games between the rematch.
“We talked abut how much improvement could we make between the first time we played them and the second time and I think that improvement was obvious that it was immense,” noted Neighbors, whose team won all four.
“We still have a lot to work on, but really proud of our effort, our ability to overcome a slow start, hang around and make some big plays against arguably one of the top two or three teams in country on the road.”
LSU head coach Kim Mulkey was impressed with the improvement in Arkansas.
“It was just a very good basketball game,” Mulkey said. “We grew up tonight. If we would have lost I would be saying the same thing. It feels better when you win, but that was just enjoyable tonight.
“If I had to criticize us, I couldn’t do it. We dominated the boards. They shot 58 percent in the second half and started making threes. Sometimes you leave and just say ‘that was a good game.’ It was a good game for women’s basketball. Good game for the SEC. Great student section tonight, first time we have seen them in forever.”
The hosts jumped to a 14-3 lead and pushed that to 20-6 before the Razorbacks began their comeback.
“I have been a part of too many teams that after that start, it would have just got blown out and gone away,” Neighbors said. “That is not in this team. So I think we can go into any environment.”
That thought will be tested on Sunday when Arkansas faces No. 1 South Carolina, who hammered Vanderbilt xx-xx on Thursday night.
“We go from this place to South Carolina on Sunday and it is just going to be more people and louder,” Neighbors said. “But to know that our kids stick together and they fight for each other and fight together, that is a pleasing thing for a coaching staff when your kids respond to stuff like that.”
Reese had her 19th straight double-double this season.
“Kudos to Arkansas, they got better,” Reese said. “They’re going to be a good team, they’re a good team right now, they scouted us well. We made a couple of mistakes tonight but Arkansas did get better.”
Erynn Barnum led Arkansas with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks while Spencer added 13 points and 6 assists, Chrissy Carr 12 points and Daniels 11 points and six assists.
“That is why I love this team so much is because they have got that fight in them,” Neighbors said. “They have really developed that and if stick together there and keep doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves
“I hate that we lost, but I am glad that we battled more than we did the last time that we played them, just 21 days ago. Again, we are not talking about two months, we are talking about 21 days.
“The improvement we made, if we work that hard and improve that much in the next 21, if we get a chance to see them again, maybe we can battle them on a neutral floor.”
Neighbors sized up his team’s offense and defense.
“I thought we were better offensively and were able to punch back,” Neighbors said. “Last time we let our our defense carry over to our offense and we were not as good on offense.
“I think our defense was probably worse tonight than it was the first time. I really do. I will have to watch it on film, but my gut tells me it was worse because we made a couple of mental mistakes.”